TURBULENCE RISK FOR INFREQUENT FLYERS

There seems to be lots of information out there for frequent flyers, but what about those of us who have to admit to being infrequent flyers? Almost every time we travel, we find ourselves having to rush to get new passports because, even if our old one is valid for another five years or more, the rules have changed. Photos this way, info that way, signatures the other way. Yikes! But of course we do it, because it’s not that we don’t like flying, don’t know anyone that we want to see, or have no curiosity about anywhere else on earth, it’s just that our clients and colleagues are all on the end of an international telephone line, and we don’t see each other – except via Skype+webcam – from one year to the next. Friends often drop in on their way to other parts of Italy (another huge advantage of living just 30 miles from Lake Como and 40 miles from Milan), so we do not have to travel to see them. And the places we want to visit? Well, they’re out there and we yearn for them, but don’t have the time.

So we feel like country cousins as we head for the airport, knowing that we won’t have this year’s fashionable luggage (this is Italy after all!), and that some of the procedures might be changed since the last time, and that although we think we know about what will not be accepted in hand-luggage, we have the sneaking feeling that there will still be something, somehow, that we will end up having to jettison before going airside.

But the problem starts well before that. Indeed, right at the very outset. Where outset is taken to mean when you (I) start planning the trip. Of course it is all done online and that is fantastic. But thereby lie the obstacles. Take yesterday, for example. I had to book a round-trip flight from Alta to Oslo for my husband’s younger son, Nicholas, who’s in Norway as an exchange high-school student and he wants to go visit the capital during the school’s late-Spring vacation. Finding the flight was not such a big deal. Indeed, he told me where to look, dates, times, the whole bit. The problem arose when I went to pay with my (British-issued) Visa credit card. Rejected. Why? Don’t know. I check that no-one has hijacked it and maxed it out. No, my entire credit allowance is there for the taking. Obviously Norwegian airlines does not wish to avail itself of such generosity.

Only alternative: to call Visa, in England. Lucky for me the number to call is available on Skype, so it costs me nothing — other than the 3.95 euro a month subscription that enables me to call land lines in 22 (count them!) European countries. The Visa Customer Care people are very pleasant and extremely professional. They take me through some security questions, and then put me through to the Fraud department. Turns out that the credit card companies are constantly monitoring transactions, especially those effected on the Internet, where fraud appears to be a big problem. Their software picks up odd patterns. And what’s so odd, I ask myself, about a British credit card, the bill for which is sent to an Italian address, and which is being used to buy an airline ticket for flights within Norway, for someone whose last name is different from that of the card-holder? Not odd to me because that is the reality. Quite peculiar to the fraud-detection software, though. So that’s why. (These infrequent flyers, don’t know anything, do they?) Anyway, the nice Visa people assure me that they will send a message to Norwegian that all is OK. Which they do because, a few minutes later, I am able to complete the reservation. And decide to take a break and leave my other airline-related task to the morning.

Confident that all was now well, earlier today, I set out to make a reservation via Orbitz.com for my husband’s elder son, Alex, who’s planning to visit Nick at the beginning of May. This is being organized long-distance, since Alex is a chef, working in Brussels. The flight Brussels, Belgium to Alta, Norway is a little more complex. But, again, he has supplied all the details and I do the rest. Well, I would, were it not for the fact that, once again, my Visa is rejected. Not good.

So it’s back to Visa. And more security questions and another intriguing development. Seems that Orbitz have not actually rejected my application to spend money with them. They have, in fact, debited my card $10 and, explains, the agent at Visa, are now scheduled to call up within seven days to get clearance on the deal. Which, she assures me, they will promptly be given. OK. So, I guess the tickets are booked, at the price available at the time of booking, and that we will get the final go-ahead between now and the end of the month. Shame that he is supposed to fly at the beginning of next month. But I suppose that’s just the infrequent flyer in me talking.

I should have known, no? I should not have even thought about trying Expedia.com, where I found a flight that was more convenient and even cheaper. What if I had assumed the Orbitz deal was void and had booked here. Would I have ended up with two tickets for the very same days for the very same person? Or is that just infrequent-flyer speak? More likely, I would have ended up with my Visa card being rejected once again, but you know what I mean.

The gist of all this is that things are more complex than they seem. Especially as, now I think of it, I had made several assumptions based on and what I have experienced when making airline bookings previously. Shows what an infrequent flyer I really am. I admit that most of the flights I have paid for in the last few years have been undertaken with Ryanair. Where there may be some complications, but none at all as far as paying is concerned. Indeed, on Ryanair, I can even settle the account with my Pay-as-you-go debit card, a nifty little thing issued by the Italian Post Office that you charge up, as you need it. Norwegian? No way, credit cards only. Including mine, at a push. Orbitz, same. Or at least we hope so.

Beginner’s luck, I guess. As an infrequent flyer, you just have no idea. You just assume that it’s always going to be that simple. But it ain’t.

So what’ll I do tomorrow? well, anything but make flight reservations, I would say!

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